Open main menu

Balcanquhall, Walter (1548-1616) (DNB00)


BALCANQUHALL, WALTER (1548–1616), presbyterian divine, derives his surname originally from lands in the parish of Strathmiglo, Fifeshire. It is nearly certain that Walter was of the 'ilk' of Balcanquhall, and that he was born there—according to his age at death—in 1548 (cf. Sibbald's 'List of the Heritors' (1710) in History of Fife, appendix No. 2).

Our earliest notice of him is that he was entered as 'minister of St. Giles, Edinburgh,' on Whit Sunday 1574, when we learn that 'he was desyrit by other towns and large stipend promist,' but 'yet he consented to stay and accept what they pleased.' At this time he is described in James Melville's 'Diary' (p. 41, Wodrow Society) as 'ane honest, upright hearted young man, latlie enterit to that menestrie of Edinbruche' [Edinburgh]. He was elected to the chaplaincy of the Altar called Jesus, 20 Nov. 1579. Having preached a memorable sermon, mainly directed against the influence of the French at court, 7 Dec. 1580, he was called before the privy council on the 9th. and 'discharged.' He attended the Earl of Morton while in prison under condemnation, 2 June 1581. When James VI of Scotland devised his scheme of re-establishing 'the bishops' in Scotland, he found Balcanquhall, along with James Lawson, Robert Pont, and Andrew Melville, and their like-minded brethren, in active opposition. On the calling together of the estates of the realm in 1584, the king sent an imperative message to the magistrates of Edinburgh 'to seize and imprison any of the ministers who should venture to speak against the proceedings of the parliament.' But Balcanquhall (along with James Lawson) preached fearlessly against the proposals; and along with Pont and others took his stand at the cross while the heralds proclaimed the acts passed by the subservient parliament, and publicly 'protested and took instruments' in the name of the 'kirk' of Scotland against them. The sermon was delivered on 24 May. A warrant was issued, and Balcanquhall and Lawson fled to Berwick-on-Tweed (Melville, Diary, p. 119).

The storm blew over, though his house in Parliament Square was given to another in the interval. On his return to Edinburgh, a house formerly occupied by Durie was given to him (1585). On 2 Jan. 1586 he preached before the king 'in the great kirk of Edinburgh' [St. Giles] when the sovereign 'after sermon rebuikit Mr. Walter publiclie from his seat in the loaft [gallery] and said he [the king] would prove there sould be bishops and spirituall magistrats endued with anthoritie over the minestrie; and that he [Balcanquhall] did not his dutie to condemn that which he had done in parliament' (Melville, Diary, p. 491). In this year (1586) he is found one of eight to whom was committed the discipline of Lothian by the general assembly. A larger house, which had been formerly occupied by his colleague Watson, was assigned to him 28 July 1587, and his stipend augmented. He was appointed to attend the coronation of Queen Anne, 17 May 1590. For some years he seems to have been wholly occupied with his pulpit and pastoral work. In 1596, however, his bold utterances again brought him into conflict with the sovereign; but a warrant having again been issued, again he escaped—this time to Yorkshire, after being 'put to the horn' as a fugitive. He appears to have been absent from December 1596 to April or May 1597. In May 1597 he resigned his 'great charge' of St. Giles in order to admit of new parochial divisions of the city. In July he was permitted to return, and was chosen 'minister' of Trinity College Church, to which he was admitted 18 April 1598. He was the friend and companion of the Rev. Robert Bruce, and bribes were tendered him in vain to get him to 'fall away' from Bruce. On 10 Sept. 1600 he was once more in difficulties, having been called before the privy council for doubting the truth of the Gowrie conspiracy. 'Transported' by the general assembly to some other parish, 16 May 1601, he was afterwards allowed to return to Trinity College (19 June), and he was in the general assembly of 1602. In conjunction with Robert Pont, he again took his stand at the cross, and publicly protested in name of the 'kirk' against the verdict of assize finding the brethren who met in general assembly at Aberdeen guilty of treason. Later, for condemning the proceedings of the general assembly in 1610 he was summoned before the privy council and admonished. He ceased preaching on 16 July 1616 from a disease in his teeth, and died 14 Aug. following, in the sixty-eighth year of his age and forty-third of his ministry.

He married Margaret, a daughter of James Marjoribanks, merchant; in right of whom he had become 'burgess and good brother' of the city (15 Feb. 1591). They had three sons, Walter [see Balcanquhall, Walter, 1586?-1645], Robert, minister of Tranent, and Samuel, and a daughter Rachel.

[Reg. Assig. Presby.; Edinburgh Counc. Reg.; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccelesiæ Scoticanæ, i. pt. i. 5-6, 31; Brace's Sermons; Balfour's Historical Works ; Stevens's Mem. of Heriot; Boke of the Kirke; Cranford's Univ. of Edinburgh; Murray's Life of Rutherford.]

A. B. G.